A few days before leaving for my recent trip home–this one for the primary purpose of spending time with my father, sister-in-law and niece, at the beach–I talked to my mother on the phone.
I ambled around my dirt-topped backyard as we spent twenty minutes or so catching up, and then told her I needed to go get dinner.
“Okay,” she said. “What time is your flight on Sunday?” And then: “Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!”
I’m certain she could hear the sound of my eyes rolling through the phone.
“What?” I retorted. “Do you really think I’m twelve years old? Jesus, mother. How do you think I survive in the world?”
Let’s just hold onto that question for a moment as I ask you to imagine the way I felt when, sitting at my gate in the Albuquerque Sunport that Sunday morning, I ticked through the contents of my suitcase and realized that I had, indeed, forgotten to pack my swimsuit.
I’d like to think it a testament to the strength of our present relationship that my first thought (after: “Wow. Really???” and “Good lord, Elizabeth, are you fucking kidding me!?”) was to tell my mother: I was eager to share with her the laugh.
(And it is perhaps testament to the frequency of this sort of exchange between us that when I did get ahold of her and asked “Guess what I forgot?!” she laughed and said “It’s okay, we have plenty of cell phone chargers!”)
Why do I tell you this? A few reasons. One, it is my mother’s birthday today and I suspect that she’ll appreciate the nod to her all-knowing-ness–as she usually, quietly, does. Two, it’s mildly amusing, and when things happen to me that are mildly amusing I sometimes (you know, about weekly) like to share them. Three, to ask this question: how in god’s name do I survive in the world?
It’s been ten years, now, since I moved out of my parents house and went to college in a state few people I knew had been to. (Or, could remember: “Where are you again?” they’d ask. “Missouri?”) Since then–save a perfectly lovely three weeks at my parents house between stints in DC and New Mexico when I worked on grad school applications and took off my pajamas, maybe, twice–I’ve been living on my own.
I’ve lived alone. I’ve lived with roommates. I am the primary (though, thankfully, not the sole) caretaker to an energetic pitbull mix. In a year, hopefully, I will have a graduate degree.
But still: I struggle with the basics of life. (Seriously: it’s possible that I haven’t been to the dentist since the Clinton administration.)
Last week in New York I had coffee with a friend and former roommate from college: she recently finished her grad program and has spent a few months unemployed. Those months have been filled with the kind of life stuff–bills, IRS issues, doctors appointments–that are a constant challenge to balance with work.
“I don’t understand how anyone who has a job gets this stuff done!” she sighed to me over iced teas at a Park Slope coffee shop.
It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my brother R.
“What have you been up to?” I asked him.
“You know, the usual, life things,” he replied. There was a pause. “All that stuff that you put off and don’t deal with, that you do everything else but? Like bills and appointments? That’s the stuff I do every day.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right.”
Which is all to say that there are people, my brother apparently among them, for whom basic responsibilities are a manageable burden. And then there are people, people like me and A, for whom they are a persistent struggle.
But, baby steps: in NY, I borrowed bathing suits from my best friend and sister-in-law. Yesterday, I made an appointment to have my teeth cleaned in September. The pit mix is sometimes crabby and not the most reliably obedient, but she’s got a pretty good life.
I’m not always sure how I survive in the world, but–with the help of good friends, occasional handy dudes, and an always all-knowing mother–I do. And, I suppose, I will.
Happy birthday Mom.